Transport Minister Humza Yousaf has been blasted for being “out of touch” after saying ScotRail were doing all they could to ease train overcrowding.
Lothians Tory MSP Gordon Lindhurst raised the issue in the Scottish Parliament after the Evening News highlighted crushing on services across the Capital. Passengers complained of regular delays, having to stand and being “crammed in like sardines”.
Mr Lindhurst asked the minister what action the Scottish Government was taking to reduce overcrowding. Mr Yousaf pointed to investment in new and refurbished rolling stock – 160 extra carriages for the ScotRail fleet since 2007, with 200 more to follow in the next 18 months. Over £475 million was being invested in ScotRail’s rolling stock fleet during the franchise term.
“When we introduce the 26 fully refurbished high-speed trains between Scotland’s main cities from summer 2018, that will provide an additional 121 coaches, which will mean 40 per cent more seats.”
And he said in the short term, the recent introduction of seven-car electric class 380 trains operating on the Edinburgh-Glasgow route meant an increase of about 9500 seats.
But Mr Lindhurst told him: “What matters to commuters and those who are travelling to and from Edinburgh at this festive time of year is what is happening now. What are the minister and the Government doing now to improve rail passengers’ situation and make train services more efficient now?”
Mr Yousaf said ScotRail was aware trains were busier during the festive period. “It does what it can to strengthen services where possible,” he said.
“At the moment, it is using an automated passenger counting system, which gives it a more accurate idea of where some of the services have a heavier load. An example is strengthening the 7.17 North Berwick-Haymarket weekday service from four to six carriages. Where ScotRail can strengthen services, it absolutely will.
“I think passengers and commuters understand that, particularly during the festive period, with that last-minute Christmas shopping and people travelling to winter markets, there will be more passengers on our train service.”
He added that he found it “a tad hypocritical” for Conservatives to demand more money for the railways while simultaneously cutting the budget for railways by hundreds of millions of pounds.
Afterwards, Mr Lindhurst said: “The answer from the Minister signals just how out of touch this government is when it comes to enabling proper organisation and delivery of our public services.
“If he thinks that passengers understand and accept that they have to face daily discomfort on their journeys to Edinburgh, he is sadly mistaken.
“Passengers are fed up with this state of affairs. They pay good money to use the service and often end up facing traumatic experiences, never mind being unable to get a seat.”